Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism (STRIVE) Afghanistan

This EU-funded programme (2019–2024) focused on reducing the vulnerability of at-risk populations in Afghanistan to recruitment into violent extremist groups.




Morning in Kabul, Afghanistan / Unsplash: Mohammad Rahmani


Overview

Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism (STRIVE) Afghanistan was a €3 million EU-funded Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) programme that was launched in January 2019. STRIVE Afghanistan was a pilot programme conducted under the EU’s global STRIVE platform. It built on the successes of previous RUSI-implemented STRIVE programmes, notably STRIVE Kenya, STRIVE Horn of Africa, and the findings of the Norwegian government-funded Prevention Project.

Crisis and regime change in Afghanistan in August 2021 forced the programme to adapt. The redesigned programme was delivered without any involvement from the post-2021 authorities, and many of the activities were carried out remotely.

The final programme delivered an individual-level intervention aimed at populations deemed at risk to Islamic State online recruitment efforts, a national-level intervention involving the training and mentorship of Afghan journalists in peace journalism, and technical engagement with key EU officials and diplomats on cross-cutting issues such as human rights and violence prevention.

The programme produced a significant number of research papers and articles on topics ranging from peace journalism and gender to Taliban governance and strategy – often based on unique sources – which provide a valuable insight into this under-studied and turbulent transitional period in Afghanistan.

Morning in Kabul, Afghanistan / Unsplash: Mohammad Rahmani

Aims and objectives

The overarching aim of the programme was to reduce the vulnerability of at-risk populations to Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) propaganda, improve the conflict-sensitivity of Afghan media reporting and increase the skills and knowledge of EU officials and diplomats to facilitate their effective engagement with the de facto authorities on cross-cutting issues including human rights and violence prevention.

Funding

STRIVE Afghanistan was funded with the financial support of the European Union. Its outputs are the sole responsibility of RUSI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Project team roles

  • Dr Antonio Giustozzi, Programme Director
  • Christopher Goodenough, Programme Manager
  • Emily Winterbotham, Programme Executive
  • Dr Gayatri Sahgal, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Lead
  • Dr Jessica White, Gender Advisor
  • Martine Zeuthen, Strategic Advisor and Gender Advisor
  • Matt Freear, Strategic Advisor – Preventive Media
  • Dr Simon Copeland, Strategic Advisor – Engagement with At-Risk Populations
  • Professor Sultan Barakat, Senior Associate Fellow

 

In addition, the project drew on the expertise of several partner organisations.

  • The Centre for Information Resilience is an independent, non-profit social enterprise dedicated to exposing human rights abuses and war crimes and combatting online harms.
     
  • The Centrum Media is an independent digital news network providing nuanced context by bringing human voices to the front, and generating lasting social impact by empowering audiences to make informed choices.
     
  • The Conflict Analysis Network is a research organisation focused on conflict, violent extremism, gender and human rights.
     
  • Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations is a multidisciplinary centre that deployed researchers to conduct the programme’s independent evaluation.
     
  • GIST is a research consultancy that supported the STRIVE Afghanistan programme through bespoke formative research and the design and implementation of the learning strategy.
     
  • Samuel Hall is a social enterprise that conducts research, evaluates programmes and designs policies. Samuel Hall designed and delivered the programme monitoring strategy.

Project impact

Engagement with at-risk populations

A comprehensive ‘discovery phase’ of formative research identified at-risk population profiles and ISKP online recruitment channels. A total of 400 pieces of campaign and media literacy content were created, tested and disseminated through targeted channels to the identified at-risk population, attracting a high level of diverse engagement and promoting critical thinking and media literacy skills.

Preventive media

30 Afghan journalists based in Afghanistan and Pakistan received a six-day in-person training, followed by a mentorship phase where they produced and published 84 conflict-sensitive stories. Trained journalists demonstrated an improved ability to engage in conflict-sensitive reporting.

Engagement with EU officials

Two discussion and dissemination events were held with influential stakeholders (non-EU and EU officials), in addition to several high-level closed-door briefings. EU officials noted an improvement in their skills and knowledge, which could facilitate more effective engagement with the de facto authorities in Afghanistan on cross-cutting issues such as human rights and violence prevention.

Research publications

A large number of research papers and articles were published. These can be found below under the programme strand subheadings.

Practitioner events and summary recordings

STRIVE Afghanistan held a practitioner-focused event in October 2023 to discuss the experimental nature of the programme, how theory and practice on delivering P/CVE interventions in complex conflict environments can be advanced, the opportunities and challenges for gender mainstreaming, and the role of the media sector. A video summarising the discussion will be made available.

The programme included a large-scale and robust Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) component. All MEL partners were given full access to project staff and data.

Monitoring

Samuel Hall developed a monitoring strategy and fed into the development of the programme results framework, monitored project progress against the results framework using a variety of tools, and produced a final monitoring report.

Evaluation

Coventry University developed the evaluation strategy and carried out the independent evaluation using a variety of tools.

The formal independent evaluation report will be made available in due course.

Learning

GIST developed a learning strategy, captured lessons at monthly learning meetings, conducted key informant interviews with programme team members and stakeholders, and produced a final learning report.

A forthcoming paper will summarise the lessons learned across the activity strands on Gender; Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning; and Programme and Risk.

Outputs

Access the outputs of the project grouped by theme.

Engagement with At-Risk Populations

Initially this activity strand included a mentorship programme focused on university students who had been assessed to be particularly vulnerable to the recruitment efforts of violent extremist organisations. However, the Taliban takeover in August 2021 prompted a shift to online recruitment disruption and redirection. This strand featured two types of activity on social media, which were conducted in parallel: boosting resilience to media propaganda and providing alternative content to violent extremist propaganda. Despite the difficult operating environment, efforts were made to incorporate gender-sensitive programming.

Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in Sensitive Environments
Countering the Islamic State in Khorasan Online
How the Taliban are Meeting the IS Threat on Afghanistan’s Campuses
Dari Translation - How the Taliban are Meeting the IS Threat on Afghanistan’s Campuses
Pashto Translation - How the Taliban are Meeting the IS Threat on Afghanistan’s Campuses
Narratives, Techniques, And Pathways: How The Islamic State Khorasan Province Recruits Afghan Students Online

This paper examines how ISKP has attempted to fill this gap by identifying and engaging prospective recruits from Afghan universities through social media. (Simon Copeland, 27 October 2023, CREST Research)

Preventive Media

Journalists can play an important role in responding to violent extremism. Reporting on the historical, structural and personal factors linked to recruitment into violent extremist organisations can help societies better understand conflicts and their drivers, which can ultimately contribute to the development of peaceful solutions to many social and political forms of conflict. Based on this understanding, RUSI commissioned a Peace Journalism training and mentorship programme for Afghan journalists.

Countering Violent Extremism Through Conflict-Sensitive Journalism
Why Intervention in Afghan Media Failed to Provide Support for Peace Talks

This article presents and discusses data from two research methods on journalism in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover of power in August 2021. (Jake Lynch and Matt Freear, Frontiers, 15 February 2023)

Forthcoming publication

Professor Jake Lynch and Matt Freear: 'Conflict-Sensitive Journalism Content Analysis' - journal article

Gender Research and Mainstreaming

STRIVE Afghanistan recognised the importance of gender sensitivity and responsiveness and worked closely with the programme Gender Advisor to mainstream gender across all programme activities and interventions, including through commissioning standalone gender research.

Implementing Gender-Sensitive Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Programming
The Role of Gender in Taliban and IS-K Recruitment: Evolving Trends
Dari Translation - The Role of Gender in Taliban and IS-K Recruitment: Evolving Trends
Pashto Translation - The Role of Gender in Taliban and IS-K Recruitment: Evolving Trends

Forthcoming publication

Policy Brief: 'Gender Mainstreaming in Practice'

P/CVE and Counterterrorism in Afghanistan Before and After August 2021

Recent global developments have seen an increasing interest in non-Western responses to terrorism. STRIVE Afghanistan tried to engage with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in its final years, but without success. The Afghan Republic continued to be unable or unwilling to substantively engage with or implement its countrywide P/CVE National Action Plan, although this was not surprising in the context of an increasingly successful Taliban insurgency.

After August 2021, the STRIVE Afghanistan team also invested considerable energy in developing an understanding of the Taliban’s approach to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. After retaking power in August 2021, the Taliban’s initial approach to dealing with insurgencies appeared to rest upon repression. However, on closer investigation, our research has uncovered a more complex reality containing elements potentially analogous to P/CVE approaches, such as reconciliation and reintegration.

Video Explainers


Taliban Counterterrorism Against the Islamic State

clock4 Minute Watch

Is the Islamic State in Khorasan Still A Threat?

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The Taliban’s Homemade Counterinsurgency
clock8 Minute Read
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How Much of a Threat is the Islamic State in Khorasan?
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Attitudes Towards Violence in Urban Afghanistan Before the Taliban Takeover
How is the Taliban’s Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency Evolving?
clock7 Minute Read
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A Force of Moderation or Radicalisation? The Role of Afghanistan’s Ulema
The Islamic State in Khorasan's Evolving Strategy
The Taliban Approach to Counterterrorism
The Taliban’s Campaign Against the Islamic State: Explaining Initial Successes
Dari Translation - The Taliban’s Campaign Against the Islamic State: Explaining Initial Successes
Pashto Translation - The Taliban’s Campaign Against the Islamic State: Explaining Initial Successes
The Islamic State and the Taliban’s Counter-terrorism

This article discusses how, as the Taliban develops its state and governance apparatus in Afghanistan, it is also confronted with the unexpected task of developing a counter-terrorism strategy. (Antonio Giustozzi, LSE Blogs, 12 June 2023)

Crisis and adaptation of the Islamic State in Khorasan

The paper discusses the conditions of the Islamic State in Khorasan and how its strategy and structures evolved after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021. (Antonio Giustozzi, LSE Blogs, 6 February 2024)

RUSI Journal
Afghanistan’s Ill-fated National Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism
RUSI Journal
Afghanistan Under the Taliban

Practitioner summaries

Access the Practitioner Summaries produced as outputs for this project.

Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in Sensitive Environments
The Islamic State in Khorasan's Evolving Strategy
Countering Violent Extremism Through Conflict-Sensitive Journalism
Implementing Gender-Sensitive Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Programming
The Taliban Approach to Counterterrorism
Countering the Islamic State in Khorasan Online

Related projects


Projects
Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism (STRIVE) Horn of Africa

This RUSI-implemented pilot programme (2014-2017) was the first dedicated effort by the European Union to implement a countering violent extremism project outside its borders.

Projects
Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism (STRIVE) II Kenya

STRIVE II Kenya was an EU-funded Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) programme active between 2017 and 2020.

Prevention Project

A comprehensive research programme on the effectiveness of preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) projects.